Like any Baby Boomer growing up on movies and TV, I was fascinated by guns—all the moreso, since I did not serve in the military. Chris Kyle was an authentic American hero, the best, most skillful sniper in the history of the US military. This book, American Gun: A History of the US, Told in Ten Firearms (NY: Wm. Morrow, 2013), was posthumously published. That it is largely ghostwritten does not take away from the sheer fascination of its premise: Kyle focuses on ten particular firearms, beginning with the Kentucky Long Rifle, the gun that won the American Revolution and assured the freedoms which we now enjoy, and culminating in the M-16 submachine gun, still the mainstay of our military today. In between, he includes the Spencer rifle, which made a strong contribution to the Civil War, the Colt .45 revolver, the “gun that won the West”; the Thompson submachine gun, the favored gun of Roaring ‘20s and Depression-era gangsters, but which was also used effectively during World War II, and others.
It is bizarre, but nonetheless effective, to have these perfectly-designed killing machines appear to tell their own stories, but Kyle’s persona in the book is that of an American patriot, showing how a gun (at least, in his opinion, and, we may assume, that of many other Americans) is a tool, nothing more. There are bad guys out there, and, in his experience, the use and purpose of a gun is to remove them from life, or, at least, disable them, so that they cannot hurt you or your loved ones.
In this regard, American Gun is successful, and a good read.
I note also that the anniversary of World War I is approaching. In that spirit, I offer this poem, by Wilfred Owen. He was not a man of war, but, lost many of his friends and comrades in that horrific conflagration, and himself died in combat, a mere week before the Armistice.
This poem is a cautionary tale, one which we have yet to learn. I offer it as a counterbalance, feeble though it may seem, to Chris Kyle’s book glorifying the weapons of war.
In the end, do I disapprove of Chris Kyle? No: I recognize that we live in a dangerous world, and I am not so foolish or idealistic to reject his approach. Some must labor, and some must hold the spears, as the Prophet Nehemiah tells us. Thank you, Chris, for your labor, and your sacrifice—and Wilfred Owen as well—but is it necessary that so many guns be out there in our country, today?
Arms and the Boy
BY WILFRED OWEN (1893-1918)
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.